A guide to rollerskis and summer training.
To roller ski or not to roller ski?
That is the question, and for Bill Koch League skiers the best answer may be that they should start roller skiing once they're so excited to do it that there's no holding them back any longer.
Why roller ski? Roller skiing is valuable for serious ski racers, to develop technique and ski-specific strength and endurance. Ski racers in high school/juniors and beyond who hope to be competitive should make roller skiing a big part of their summer and fall training. Older BKL skiers who are transitioning toward competitive racing can gain a lot from getting comfortable on roller skis, both to improve technique now and to build a foundation for more intense and higher-volume training in coming years.
Don't start too early. Roller skiing can be frustrating and scary for younger and inexperienced skiers. Falling on asphalt hurts, and can turn someone off from roller skiing for years. Younger kids and less experienced skaters generally have more fun on rollerblades, which are more maneuverable and easier to balance on. Best to play games on rollerblades and develop balance and agility there, and get on rollerskis when you're sure you're ready.
Avoid too much too soon. With rare exceptions, BKL is too soon to begin serious year-round ski-specific training, and kids will do better with a mix of activities. A diversity of activities will develop better all-around athleticism (a big advantage in the long run), reduce risks of overuse injury (to which developing bodies are more prone), and avoid psychologic burnout.
So who should rollerski? In general, kids entering 6th grade and older who are interested in competitive racing will benefit from roller skiing. At least a year of skiing experience and comfort on snow is a big help, and kids should feel excited enough to do it and determined enough to succeed that they'll be able to work through the occasional road rash. If you're not sure, it's probably best to wait.
Buying roller skis.
Roller skis cost more than you'd think they should, but they're still cheaper than a pair of high-end snow skis and should last through high school and beyond.
Skate vs classic skis. Most kids in our program have skate roller skis (with skinny wheels that are easy to edge and push off) - these are probably the most fun to start on. Classic or combi roller skis have fatter wheels with a ratchet for striding (and can be used for skating but are generally more frustrating, especially as the wheels wear unevenly) - you'll get these eventually for classic skiing if you're serious, but not necessary now. Our practices will focus on skating and double poling (we'll work on classic striding skills in other ways).
What to look for in a skate ski. Skate skis with shafts that ride lower than the wheel axles are more stable when you're balancing on a single ski (look for axles that are offset above the midline of the shaft). These cost more but the added stability is probably worth it especially for developing roller skiers. Composite ($$$) or wood shafts dampen vibration from the road better than aluminum (composite is lighter and more responsive but wood is plenty good). Durable wheels are important especially for bigger kids and adults (all brands tout their wheel durability, and I haven't seen any that are bad yet). When there's a choice of wheel speeds, medium is usually best for most skiers (slower gives you monster workouts, and fast is for racing but not really an advantage for training). Brakes or speed reducers are helpful for controlling speeds on downhills, and are an attractive safety feature. I don't have enough experience with these to recommend between the different designs. We will practice on roads where brakes are not necessary, but these could open you up to a much wider variety of terrain.
Helmets are a must every time you roller ski.
Hi-visibility shirt or safety vest is a bright idea if on roads with any potential traffic (RXCSF summer program tech shirts are a great choice!).
Poles can be the same as you use in the winter, but need roller ski ferrules (aka road tips). These are harder and more durable than regular tips/baskets (which will eventually break on the road). Order wherever you get your roller skis, and make sure the size is compatible with your poles. Soak for a minute or so in boiling water to melt the glue and remove from the pole shaft.
Boots should have good lateral ankle support (hinged plastic cuff strapped snugly).
Knee and elbow pads are strongly recommended for all beginning rollerbladers and skiers, to reduce skin loss and fear of falling (knee pads are the most important). Get the type with a hard plastic shell, designed for rollerbladers (or carpenter's knee pads at most hardware stores). Even if you're pretty comfortable on skis, these will help you extend your limits with less fear.
Gloves can help reduce blisters and scrapes when you fall. Get cheap ones, because these can be shredded. Closeout biking gloves can be a good option.
Water bottle belts are big if you're skiing an extended loop sans domestiques.
Recommended skate skis:
Woodski LX skate - low-riding stable shaft that dampens vibrations well, with a brake that works reasonably well when adjusted properly (or can easily be removed if not needed). At $289 plus bindings these are no longer a steal but are reasonable. 20% discount on group orders of 5 or more pairs.
Marwe 620XC - the gold standard in skate roller skis (if you have enough spare gold - $369 plus bindings). Low-riding composite shafts are smooth and responsive like snow skis. Durable wheels. No brakes or speed reducers.
V2 XLQ98M - very smooth and stable low-riding composite shafts, $319 alone or $439 mini-package including bindings and speed reducers or brake.
V2 XLA98M is the same ski with aluminum shafts that will be as stable but not as smooth, $199 alone or $319 mini-package (bindings and speed reducers or brake).
Less expensive options:
Pursuit T5304 ($165 plus bindings, optional $40 brake)- short and light for young skiers, less stable than low-riders. Pursuit T6004 ($170 plus bindings, optional $40 brake) - same thing with longer shaft for bigger kids and adults. Niflheim S600 ($145 plus bindings, includes speed reducers) are also more wobbly, but with durable wheels and OK speed reducers and are built by an HFL grad.